This post compares the advantages and disadvantages of titanium and steel quick-release skewers.
The main advantage of titanium components is that they can be lighter because titanium has approximately 50% of steel’s density.
Despite its low density, titanium is surprisingly strong thanks to its hexagonal crystal structure making it hard for the atoms to “slide” when pushed.
The table below compares the weight of steel and titanium quick-release skewers:
Note: The table focuses only on the material of the axle rod. In other words, the titanium skewers have a titanium rod; the steel models have a steel one. The material of the levers, however, could be identical.
|Hope Fatsno 135mm/170mm
|KCNC Grooving QR
|KCNC Z6 KQR 100mm/130mm
|BBB Cycling LightBlock BQR-11
|DT Swiss RWS
|CADEX 100mm/130mm Titanium
|Ritchey WCS Road
|Ritchey WCS Road Titanium
|BBB Cycling WheelBlock BQR-01
|KCNC KQR Skewer Road
|KCNC KQR Skewer MTB Ti
|Hope Steel MTB
|Vision QR-93 Road
Conclusion: Titanium quick-release skewers are about 50% lighter than steel models.
The weight savings are huge when presented as percentages, but in practice, they amount to 40-80 grams.
Unless you’re trying to build the lightest possible bicycle and set a world record, 80 or even 180 grams don’t matter much.
At the end of the day, the dirt on your tires (if you’re riding off-road) could easily add more than that to your wheels.
- Modus of Elasticity
The modus of elasticity reveals a material’s resistance to elastic (non-permanent) deformation under applied stress. In other words, the modus of elasticity shows how stiff a material is.
|Modus of Elasticity
|200 GPa / 29000 ksi
|116 GPa / 16800 ksi
Steel has a higher modus of elasticity than titanium and can consequently face greater stress before deforming. Titanium flexes and can deform more easily.
- Tensile strength
The tensile strength measures the maximum stress that a material can withstand during stretching or pulling before breaking.
|350 MPa / 50800 psi
|140 MPa / 20300 psi
Steel has a much greater tensile strength than titanium. Therefore, it’s the go-to material when extreme strength is the goal.
This may seem surprising because titanium is often presented as stronger than steel even though it isn’t.
This misconception happens because titanium has the highest strength-to-weight ratio thanks to its low density.
A titanium element can match the strength of a steel one while weighing substantially less. In that regard, titanium is essentially an upgraded version of aluminum.
FAQ: Can titanium match the strength of steel?
In this specific scenario, the answer is no because the axle hub limits the diameter of the quick-release rod.
The quick-release skewer is about 3.95mm in diameter because it has to pass through the hub axle. For a titanium rod to be stronger than a steel one, it will have to be thicker.
But in that scenario, a bigger axle will be needed too as the skewer won’t pass through the original one.
The image below shows a hollow axle through which the quick-release skewer has to pass.
Availability, Price, and Market Share
Titanium quick-release skewers are more of a premium product designed for riders who want the lightest possible bicycle. The vast majority of people riding a bicycle do not obsess about 40-80 extra grams and thus do not fall in this category.
Steel quick-release skewers are cheaper, in greater demand and thus dominate the market. If you go to a small bike shop, chances are you won’t even find a titanium quick-release skewer as most customers are beginners and don’t even know the difference between a thru-axle and a quick-release skewer.
Steel quick-release skewers are subject to corrosion in the form of rust.
Rust a.k.a. iron oxide is a metal that has reacted with oxygen and formed a new compound. Water and moisture speed up the oxidization. The various types of salts in water greatly accelerate the process too.
In most cases, the rusting of steel quick-releases is superficial a.k.a. surface rust which serves as a layer of protection from additional corrosion.
That said, it’s always recommended to examine a rusted element before using it as intended. Do not ride with a quick-release skewer that has rusted badly.
Unlike steel, titanium doesn’t corrode when it’s in contact with the elements. Similar to aluminum, the material forms a very thin oxide layer of protection that stops the metal underneath from reacting with the environment. As a result, titanium frames and other bike components can face harsh conditions without deterioration.
Resistance to Breaking
Titanium is a notch-sensitive metal. In other words, when loaded to the maximum, its brittleness shows and it can break unexpectedly.
Meanwhile, steel is a much more ductile metal and is more likely to bend than to break. This makes steel superior to titanium for critical elements.
When it comes to quick-release skewers, the same properties apply. The rods/axles of quick-release skewers are made of Chromoly steel – alloy steel with an extremely high tensile strength of 100, 000 psi /689 MPa. Meanwhile, the tensile strength of titanium is 63,000 psi /434 MPa.
Chromoly steel is much stronger than standard hi-ten steel. Hence we found it on quality BMX frames and other components too.
A quick-release skewer with a steel rod is not expected to break unless there’s an accident when predictability goes out of the window.
During normal riding, however, a quality steel skewer is essentially “sleeping calmly” and will not fail (unless it’s defective).
Titanium skewers are very tough too, but the probability of sudden breaking is higher, especially if the bike is under great stress as in the case of MTBs. This is one of the reasons why titanium skewers are more common for road bikes than stunt bicycles.
The clamping strength depends more on the construction of the skewers (internal or external cam) and the design. In general, both types are expected to offer similar clamping strength.
In general, all quick-release skewers are designed for vertical or forward-facing horizontal dropouts. If you have rear-facing horizontal dropouts a.k.a. track ends, it’s recommended to use bolt-on axles (read more).
That said, if quick-release skewers are to be used on horizontal dropouts, steel models with internal cams are the best for the following reasons:
- The internal cam mechanism offers more clamping power.
- Steel doesn’t flex as much as aluminum and thus the chain tension doesn’t vary as much.
|Lighter, Do Not Corrode
|Brittle, Flexier, Expensive, Harder To Find
|Good for lightweight bicycles
|Stronger, Stiffer, Cheaper, Available
|Suitable for every style or riding but will add weight
Steel = The Practical Choice For Most People
In most cases, quality steel skewers are the most practical choice, especially for recreational riders. Those models are easier to find, super strong, and fairly affordable.
Titanium is cool, but its main selling point, namely the reduced weight, is irrelevant to most riders.
If you want a lighter bike, investing in a lighter frame and wheelset is wiser since those components add the most weight anyway. The skewers are too small to make a noticeable difference on the scale.